The 15th Amendment to the Constitution struck down the denial of the right to vote based on race.
The 24th Amendment to the Constitution struck down the ability of the states to impose a poll tax on voters – whose goal was ultimately to undermine the 15th Amendment and to deny black Americans the right to cast their ballots.
I offer this information as historical background. The right to vote is an inestimable privilege and responsibility. To go into the public forum and state your opinion, free of the prospect of harassment. Which brings me to the subject of this post.
A few days ago I spoke with an elderly neighbor, a lady in her 80’s and asked if I might take her to the grocery store with me. She readily agreed since I think that she recognizes her driving is not quite as good as it once was.
This lady, I’ll call her, Lily is a white woman who grew up in Biloxi, Mississippi. She married a man who had a career in the U. S. Air Force and whose last deployment was here in Las Vegas at Nellis AFB. He passed away quite a few years ago.
During our ride to the store, Lily brought up the rapidly rising cost of groceries and engaged me in a political conversation – much to my surprise. Of course, regular readers of this blog will realize these are subjects which interest me, so we spoke.
She said that, “Despite everything that he has done, I am thinking about voting for President Obama on November 6th.”
I asked, “Why? Do you have something against Romney?”
“Oh, no. I think he is honest – but doesn’t have a lot of personality. I think he probably would be a better President.”
This confounded me, so I asked, “Well, why would you vote for Obama?”
Her answer really shocked me.
“I’m afraid what will happen if Obama loses. I’m afraid that a lot of his supporters will start breaking into stores and burglarizing houses because they see the end of their meal-ticket. And I live by myself. I’m afraid for my safety.”
By “a lot of his supporters” I took it that Lily meant people who happened to be black Americans. I find that statement (if my inference is correct) to be offensive – but I also understand her cultural background in making it. And I understand her fear which is real.
I remember the riots in Watts, almost 47 years ago to the day. And I know that Lily remembers those events as well.
What Lily may not understand is that this is not a matter of color but is a matter of economics. And there is less opportunity for many members of the black community than there is for other members of our society. We see that clearly in the rate of unemployment for blacks which is nearly twice the national average.
In the 1960’s and 1970’s I knew some people who looked at welfare, then merely in its infancy, and looked down on the people who accepted it. Concurrent with their disdain was the underlying belief that this was a program that was designed only for the benefit of black Americans. They were wrong. At the time, the majority of welfare recipients were white.
If you create a class of people who have no upward mobility because of lack of education, few marketable skills and a mindset that life is about waiting until the first of the month when the EBT card gets refilled so that they can survive another thirty days, you have created the kind of potential scenario which my friend Lily fears. That is just what we have created through our government policies which have transformed slavery into welfare.
What my friend Lily may not understand is that eventually this has to stop for the simple reason that we have run out of the ability to pay for these sorts of programs (and probably, whether our politicians will admit it or not, realize that this was a poorly misguided attempt to bring about social justice). There is simply no quick fix for a problem that has been fifty years in the creation.
It would be naïve to believe that President Obama is the cause of this problem. It would be equally naïve to believe that a President Romney will spend four years in office and fix it. But we know that continuing our present path is surely not the answer that a person with vision would endorse.
The answer at its most basic lies with education. That is, by it’s nature, a long-term solution and does not address the issue of those adults who have not benefited from it themselves and who comprise a growing portion of our society. To be candid, I do not know the answer for how to improve their prospects – but at least I am willing to face the problem and think about it honestly.
What Lily may not understand is that we are at a turning point – irrespective of who is the next President. Our fiscal imprudence is going to cause us to have to look not only at social programs like welfare but the entire way that we as a country conduct ourselves and our business.
At some point, all it would take would be those who have willingly purchased our bonds to float our increasing debt to say, “We don’t know if our money is safe in America any more,” and to stop. That would create an implosion that would be heard around the world. And with the recent downgrade in our debt, for the first time in our history, that day many not be too far down the road.
Or consider a natural disaster. A violent sun spot emission knocks out our communication systems. We have become so dependent on technology that if we found ourselves without it, most of us would find ourselves helpless. With no communication, society would quickly find itself victimized by the predators who would loot stores and steal food. And when that food has disappeared from the shelves, with law enforcement taxed beyond anything it was ever designed to do, you can see the possible scenarios that might ensue.
This is a dire picture. It is not one that any of us wants to imagine or believes might happen. In fact, we find it so dreadful that those who have the ability to take steps to avert it, our political leaders, have declined to do so because the remedies will require that we all change our lifestyles and our outlook. And people whose way of life is challenged don’t make for happy voters.
We have a choice this November. We may, like may friend Lily vote to continue the policies which have brought us to this place – for fear of the possibility of civil insurrection. But that will merely insure that state of unrest will come to pass – if not now, soon.
Or we can take the common sense approach – acknowledge that we have real problems that demand realistic solutions and vote for people who tell us the truth, as painful as that may be for us to hear, and who start us back on a course away from the brink – while there is still time. If there is still time.
Living in fear is a terrible existence. If our fear determines how and for whom we vote, we bring that misery down on an entire nation.